Sunday, February 19, 2012

20 Years of Image Comics!

Recently celebrating their 20th anniversary in the comic book industry (hard to believe isn’t it?), Image Comics remains one of the premiere independent comic book publishers around today. They’ve had numerous smash hits and have spawned (no pun intended) a shit-ton of fresh, new talent over the years that would go on to make their marks on mainstream comics as time would go on as well. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of my beloved Image, I’ve put together a Top 10 list of the best comics ever published under the Image banner.

But before we get to that, let’s have a brief history lesson. In late 1991, a group of Marvel Comics artists were growing increasingly dissatisfied with how Marvel was putting the dick to them in terms of royalties (some shit never changes). These artists: Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio, all put their own money together and with some fellow writer allies (Chris Claremont and Fabian Nicieza) lending a hand, and low and behold, Image Comics was born. They were told they would fail, but from the first comics the publisher released, namely Liefeld’s “Youngblood”, McFarlane’s “Spawn”, Lee’s “Wild C.A.T.S.”, and Larsen’s “Savage Dragon”, created such an uproar and massive sales that it scared the shit both out of Marvel and DC alike.

Over the years, the original Image lineup has come and gone, with other talent like Mark Millar, Robert Kirkman, Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, and plenty more all making names for themselves with Image before reaching superstardom with the bigger publisher boys. So now, let’s get on with this Top 10 of the best comics that Image has ever published. And if you’ve never checked any of them out before, well…you suck.


You knew this was going to be on here one way or another. Created by Todd McFarlane and the subject of a whole shit-ton of controversy in its early days, “Spawn” was like a breath of fresh air in the world of costumed douche-baggery. You all know the story. Government hitman Al Simmons was murdered and sent to Hell, where he made a deal with the devil to return to Earth. Over 200 issues and going, “Spawn” always suffered from convoluted plots, but what’s really funny is that while it never managed to retain the massive popularity it had in the late 90s, the comic actually got more enjoyable. Recently taken in a bold and new direction, and with a new Spawn too, it’s the best the comic has been in quite some time.


Created by writer/artist Erik Larsen, and like “Spawn” is still going strong since 1993, “Savage Dragon” was a unique, and bloody, take on the superhero genre. A giant green-finned beast of a man (hence the name) is discovered by Chicago cops lying unconscious with no memory of who he is. Eventually he joins the force and starts to take on the hordes of supervillains that plague the city. What makes “Savage Dragon” be so consistently good for so long is that Larsen has remained the title’s sole writer and artist for nearly 20 years and going. Whatever you do, just don’t watch any re-runs of the “Savage Dragon” cartoon from the 90s, that piece of shit was horrible.


Kurt Busiek made a name for himself telling a larger than life superhero story from the point of view of an average joe with Alex Ross on “Marvels” for Marvel in the early 90s, which set the stage for what they would conjure up with “Astro City”. Along with artist Brent Anderson, the trio managed to create an intricately designed world with a huge cast of characters. All this makes for some truly epic and grandiose storytelling that’s truly a sight to behold. Between all that and the numerous nods to comic book legend Jack Kirby, and you have something really, really special here.


Before Robert Kirkman set the comic book world on fire with “The Walking Dead”, he crafted “Invincible”. An ongoing series that revolves around a teenager discovering that he is the son of the world’s greatest superhero, “Invincible” features more shocking and surprisingly poignant moments that have made it such an addictive read since it was first published. That, and the fact that Kirkman’s twists come so far out of left field that you’ll be hooked from the beginning and salivating to see what happens next.


A ghastly and original series from writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory, “Chew” follows the adventures of FDA agent Tony Chu, who has the unique talent of getting a psychic impression off of anything he eats. And it isn’t just food that he finds himself chewing on either… A nasty and innovative series, “Chew” is a darkly hilarious blast that definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s insanely enjoyable however and more than worth you giving it a try.


One of the most infamous titles to come out of the Image stable (and is a spin-off of “Witchblade”, another famous Image title), “The Darkness” is as brutal and unforgiving as one can possibly imagine. Revolving around mob hitman Jackie Estacado, who becomes endowed with the power of the otherworldly beings known as “darklings” to reign hell down on all those that oppose him. Frequently crossing over with “Witchblade” and other Image titles, “The Darkness” just recently celebrated a milestone in comics form, as well as hit video game adaptations. Even though it’s whole run has been a bit uneven at times, “The Darkness” remains one of the best titles to come out of Image ever.


Created by Sam Kieth, “The Maxx” is as prolific and revolutionary as it is just plain mind boggling. A semi-satire on superheroes and the like, “The Maxx” revolves around a social worker named Julie and a mysterious, costumed homeless man called the Maxx. Both people are linked by tragic events, and forever destined to roam the “outback” together: a mystical plane of existence. Spawning an animated series on MTV in the mid 90s, “The Maxx” is a haunting and strangely beautiful series that pushed the limits of mainstream comics and became startlingly poignant as it wound to a close. If you’ve never read any of “The Maxx”, you need to immediately.


Chances are, you already know a lot about “The Walking Dead”. Now a hit TV series on AMC, Robert Kirkman’s original comic book made so much noise upon its inception that it has forever left its mark on the comic book industry. A zombie-filled tale of survival that never ends, the story focuses on Georgia cop Rick Grimes as he eventually re-unites with his family and other survivors as they make their trek through zombie-riddled post-apocalyptic America. Keeping true with the Romero-crafted classic zombie films, the worst things to encounter in this world aren’t the flesh-eating undead, but the human survivors who have changed for the worse in this new world. Filled with twists, turns, unexpected deaths, and one of the absolute best villains to ever grace the pages of a comic book in The Governor, “The Walking Dead” has remained one of the best comic books to ever see the light of day.


Written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman, “The Nightly News” is a part satire, part espionage, part pure-fucked-up-ness look at the effect the American news media has on us all. A group of people that could be looked at as no more than being terrorists wages an all out war on the news media in an effort to get the rest of us to truly “wake up” as to what’s really going on around us, and the end results are shockingly terrifying. Made all the more magnificent by Hickman’s unique art and design structure, “The Nightly News” was such a critical hit that it made Hickman an overnight sensation, and pretty much got him the job with Marvel Comics he has now breathing new life into the Fantastic Four. Do yourself a favor and pick this up, you won’t regret it.


There’s not much about “Wanted” that hasn’t been said already, except for the fact that you should forget the action blockbuster abortion starring Angelina Jolie ever happened. Written by Mark Millar and drawn by J.G. Jones, “Wanted” tells the story of a young man named Wesley, stuck in a dead-end job with a cheating girlfriend, and basically an all-around loser. That is until the day he learns he is the son of The Killer, the world’s greatest supervillain, and that superheroes and supervillains once existed, only that the villains won and wiped the memory of both parties ever existing from the minds of every person on the planet. Per his late father’s wishes, Wesley begins training to be the greatest supervillain there will ever be, granted the freedom to do whatever he wants in the process. An adolescent super-fantasy, “Wanted” is a bloody blast of spectacular proportions. It’s unapologetic, nasty, and more nihilistic than anything you’ll ever read. That and the final line of dialogue in the series may be the greatest ending quote in the history of a comic book ever.

Well, that’s it folks. Image Comics fans may notice that there are a handful of more famous titles I left off of here, most notably “Youngblood” (which is flat out horrible) and “Witchblade” (which I always found overrated). That aside though, these are the best things Image has ever published in my humble opinion, and they all deserve your time and attention.


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